Often when you wait many years for an adventure, the anticipation creates out-sized expectations and you end up disappointed when these expectations are not met. I first heard about the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in 2002, but the inability take extended leave from full-time employment resulted in having to wait until I retired to take a long-format course. The intervening 15 years allowed plenty of time to build very high expectations when I signed up for the Summer Intensive in 2017. In this case, my expectations were not only met, but exceeded...in spades! If I were grading the program, it would be A+ across the board.
First, there is the wonderful staff. To a person their focus on the students shines through. They are all about helping you, giving personal attention when needed and making it a great experience for everyone. Their passion not only for photography, but for teaching, is evident at every moment. Skill levels among students is highly variable, which on the surface would seem to create challenges to learning. However, the RMSP overcomes this challenge by having not only great teachers but classroom assistants (previous RMSP graduates), to help keep everyone on track. The course structure also promotes an atmosphere where students not only learn from the teachers and assistants, but from each other as well – in labs, field sessions and critiques. This brings everyone along in their technical and artistic skills at an amazing pace and it is awe-inspiring to watch the improvements over the course of six weeks.
Secondly, the camaraderie that develops among the students is like nothing I have ever experienced before. This results not only in amazing support of each other’s journey, but in friendships lasting beyond the temporal boundaries of Summer Intensive. The diversity in age and backgrounds of the students greatly enriches the experience.
Finally, the setting in Missoula, Montana is perfect for getting away and allowing yourself to become fully immersed in learning. A friendly town with numerous nearby photo and recreational opportunities, I thoroughly enjoyed the six weeks in what I came to call my “Missoula bubble.”